REPORT Nº 53/01

CASE 11.565



April 4, 2001



          I.        SUMMARY


          1.       On January 16, 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Commission” or “the IACHR”) received a petition filed by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL, hereinafter “the petitioners”). The petition alleges the international responsibility of the United Mexican States (hereinafter "the State") for the illegal detention, rape, and torture of the Tzeltal native sisters Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez, as well as the subsequent failure to investigate and provide redress for those acts. The petitioners allege violation of several rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter the "American Convention"): right to humane treatment (Article 5); right to personal liberty (Article 7); right to a fair trial (Article 8); right to privacy (Article 11); rights of the child (Article 19); and right to judicial protection (Article 25).


2.       According to the petition, on June 4, 1994 a group of military personnel detained in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, the sisters Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez and their mother Delia Pérez de González, in order to interrogate them; the four women were held for approximately two hours. The petitioners allege that the three sisters were separated from their mother, beaten, and raped several times by the military personnel; that on June 30, 1994 a petition was filed with the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (Office of the Attorney General of the Republic or “PGR”) based on a gynecological examination; that same examination was corroborated before the said institution by the testimony of Ana and Beatriz, the two older sisters; that the record was transferred to the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Military Justice in September 1994; and that the latter decided finally to close the record for failure of the sisters to come forward to testify again and to undergo an expert gynecological examination. The petitioners assert that the State failed in its duty to investigate the facts denounced, punish those responsible, and provide redress for the violations.


3.       For its part, the Mexican State contends that the competent authorities carried out a serious investigation, although domestic remedies were not exhausted; that the representatives of the González Pérez sisters did not show sufficient interest in the case; consequently, the military investigation could not be reopened; and that human rights were not violated.


4.       In this report, the IACHR analyzes the merits of the case reported and concludes that the Mexican State is responsible for violation of the rights enshrined in the American Convention: right to humane treatment and to privacy (Articles 5 and 11); right to personal liberty (Article 7); right to a fair trial and judicial protection (Articles 8 and 25); and in the case of Celia González Pérez, rights of the child (Article 19); all in keeping with the general obligation to respect and guarantee rights, provided for in Article 1(1) of this international instrument.  The Inter-American Commission also establishes that the Mexican State is responsible for violation of Article 8 of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.


5.       As a result of the violations established, the IACHR is recommending that the State conduct a serious, impartial, and exhaustive investigation to determine the criminal liability of those responsible for the violations mentioned and that it impose, as necessary, the appropriate legal sanctions on the guilty parties.  It further recommends that Mexico provide adequate compensation to Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez for the infractions committed.




6.       The Inter-American Commission assigned the number 11.565 to the case and requested information from the Mexican State on the pertinent parts of the petition on January 18, 1996.  Following an extension granted by the Commission to Mexico, the latter provided a response on May 13, 1996, which was forwarded to the petitioners on May 24, 1996.  The comments of the petitioners were transmitted to the Mexican State on September 10, 1996.  On October 24, 1996, the State sent its comments to the Commission, which forwarded them to the petitioners.


7.       The IACHR requested updated information from the petitioners on the case on November 13, 1998 and, in the absence of a reply, repeated the request on March 19, 1999. The petitioners submitted information on the case on May 27, 1999, the Mexican State doing likewise on July 14, 1999.  Finally, the petitioners submitted additional comments on September 7, 1999.


8.       On October 4, 1999, a working meeting was held to address this case at the headquarters of the Commission and was attended by the petitioners and representatives of the State. At the meeting, the Commission received updated information on the positions of the parties with regard to the admissibility and merits of the petition.


9.       During its 105th session, the Inter-American Commission reviewed the case and declared it admissible in its report Nº 129/99 of November 19, 1999.[2]  In that report, the IACHR decided to make itself available to the parties with a view to reaching a friendly settlement.  On December 20, 1999, the State submitted correspondence in which it stated that it could not accept the offer of the Inter-American Commission due to the circumstances surrounding the case.[3]  In correspondence addressed to the IACHR of March 2, 2000, the petitioners signaled their willingness to discuss a friendly settlement of the case, based on the evidence presented in PGR Preliminary Investigation Nº 64/94.  The State did not change its position on the matter.




10.     The Inter-American Commission in its report Nº 129/99 analyzed the arguments of the parties pertaining to the requirements set forth in Articles 46 and 47 of the American Convention.  The allegations pertaining to the merits of the issue are summarized below, and will be expanded in the analysis of this case.


A.      The petitioners


11.     The petitioners alleged that on June 4, 1994, at approximately 2:30 p.m., members of the Mexican Federal Army arbitrarily detained Mrs. Delia Pérez de González and her daughters Ana, Beatriz, and Celia, and interrogated them in order to make them confess to membership in the Zapatista National Liberation Army – EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional).[4]  They claim that facts were duly reported with strong supporting evidence to the authorities in Mexico but that the transfer of competency to the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Military Justice and its lack of willingness resulted in the failure to investigate the violations, the result being that, to date, those responsible have gotten off scot-free.


B.       The State


12.     The Mexican State indicates that it has not been able to verify fully the claims of the petitioners, due to the lack of cooperation on the part of the victims.  It alleges that the investigation was closed because the González Pérez sisters refused to appear in the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Military Justice to submit their evidence and to undergo another gynecological examination.  As a result, it maintains that the Mexican State did not engage in any human rights violations whatsoever and asks the Inter-American Commission to reject the petition.





A.      Right to personal liberty (Article 7 of the American Convention)


13.     Article 7(1) of the American Convention guarantees every person the right to personal liberty and security.  The petition alleges that on June 4, 1994, the sisters Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez, and their mother Delia Pérez de González were “illegally detained by members of the Mexican Federal Army” at the military checkpoint located on the road to the Jalisco communal lands, Altamirano municipality in Chiapas State, at approximately 2:30 p.m., as they were returning from a neighboring town to which they had gone to sell their agricultural produce.[5]


14.     They add that at the time of their detention, “the military personnel started to harass and torture them to make them confess their membership in the EZLN …  since they belong to the Tzeltal ethnic group their knowledge of Spanish is very limited, owing to which they could not respond to the questions that were put to them."[6]  According to the report, the military officers separated the sisters from their mother at that time and led them to a wooden room when the interrogation allegedly continued.


15.     The petitioners maintain that the threats continued in that room, with the participation of a high-ranking officer, who had ordered other soldiers to enter and hold the women.  The petition states that the three sisters were then repeatedly raped by the military officers there, until 4:30 p.m.  After this, the mother was allowed to enter the room and the official, with the assistance of an interpreter, “threatened the victims and stated that if they reported the incident, they would be detained again and imprisoned at Cerro Hueco or even killed.”[7]


16.     An account of the incident that took place on June 4, 1994 is provided in the report filed by the victims and their representatives with the Office of the Attorney General in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, on August 30, 1994.  That report, which opened preliminary investigation 64/94, contains the fingerprints of the three González Pérez sisters and the written account that was prepared with the assistance of translators.  In the document, which has been in the possession of the Mexican authorities since August 30, 1994, the persons filing the report state:


As we passed through the checkpoint, [the soldiers] started to harass us, stating that we had to be checked.  We therefore returned and tried to pass through the other checkpoint located at the entrance to the road leading to the Jalisco communal lands.  I did not want them to check me, because I was afraid that they would take away the money that we had made and would harass us by checking our bodies.  I did not like this and am bothered by the way they touch us to see what we have in our clothing.  The soldiers at the other checkpoint did not let us pass either, and began to ask us our names and where we were going, and stated that we could not pass.  They took us from there to the other checkpoint, the first one, where they ordered us to sit, but our mother began to cry and we were separated.  One of the soldiers said that we had to speak to a Sergeant and separated us.


At the checkpoint, the Sergeant told us that we had to await the arrival of the Commander who would speak to us, and told us also that we should not be worried.  While the Sergeant was speaking by radio to the Commander, some of the other soldiers who were there asked us if we were single women, and when we said that we were, they told us that that was good, since we had to spend the night with them.


About ten soldiers then grabbed us and carried us away by force, dragging and shoving us, and shouting things at us that we could not understand.  They then put us in a house by ourselves and our mother stayed outside.  There were only children and one indigenous man there, dressed white, wearing a shirt with patches and a hat, who seemed to be looking for his horse.


The house where they put us had only one wooden room, was windowless, had an unpainted door, a sheet metal roof, an earth floor, was fairly small, and had an outdoor kitchen.  Inside, there was a bed and hoes, sticks, pickaxes, machetes, and an ax.[8]


17.     The report goes on to describe in detail the abuse suffered by the sisters.  In addition, it describes the interrogation during which they were accused of being members of EZLN, to which they responded that they knew nothing of the accusations, that they were not zapatistas, and that they did not have weapons.  They added that when they stated this, the soldiers became more enraged, and that they could not see their mother during the entire time that were interrogated and abused.  They could not tell how long the incident lasted, but they stated: “when we entered the house it was daylight, and when we left it was about 6:30 in the evening, since the sun was setting.”  They end this part of the report to the PGR by stating that they finally managed to leave the place where they had been detained and abused, walking slowly because they had been beaten, and reached their community at 7:30 p.m.


18.     The State argues that the Armed Forces were performing public safety activities in Chiapas, in accordance with Mexican domestic law:


The Constitution of the United Mexican States clearly stipulates that it is the responsibility of the Armed Forces to guarantee the domestic safety and external defense of the Federation, and that these forces cannot limit themselves solely and exclusively to their barracks and that they can take action in any place and at any time, in times of both war and peace.


The Organic Law of the Mexican Army and Air Force provides a more detailed description of their general mission, which is to: “I. Defend the integrity, independence, and sovereignty of the nation; II.  Guarantee domestic security; III.  Assist the civil population when such assistance is needed; IV.  Engage in civic and social activities that are aimed at the progress of the country; and V. In the event of disaster, provide assistance in the area of law and order, assistance to persons and their property, and with the rebuilding of the areas affected.”  (emphasis in the original).


Based on these guidelines, the military officers were performing a service outside their barracks aimed at the protection of the civilian population, the human rights of whom were seriously affected by a group that violates the law, and in support of the civilian authority of Chiapas State, since their efforts to reestablish rule of law were being thwarted by this group.


The military officers were performing a service on that day related to the CHECKPOINTS; consequently, they were on duty and never left the location, since the place where the alleged victims were taken for interrogation was within the radius of the area assigned for the performance of their activities.  (Upper case in the original)[9]


19.     The State also cites a part of the proceedings for unconstitutionality (I/96) instituted by the members of the LVI Legislature against Article 12(III and IV) of the "General Law Establishing the Coordination Bases of the Public Security system."[10]  In these proceedings, the federal legislators argued that the Army, Navy, and Air Force of Mexico had usurped the security functions assigned solely to the civil authorities.  The Mexican Supreme Court decided to declare these proceedings lawful but unfounded; consequently, the legal provisions challenged were constitutional.  The Mexican Supreme Court maintained, inter alia, that:

The law is the expression of the will of the people and military officers do not have to take any action in their regard unless they are so requested, ordered, or authorized by the civil authorities, in all matters that are not directly related to their duty to obey, the basic law to which they are bound. (sic)


The possibility of the provision of assistance and support by the Army to the civil authorities has been noted, as long as it is recognized that the military is, in all situations, subject to the civil authority, and can act when the legitimate authority seeks its assistance.[11]


20.     In that decision, the Supreme Court confirms that "the Armed Forces have the authority to act, following the orders of the President, under his strictest responsibility," in situations that are not "dire cases of intrusion, serious law and order disturbances, or any other situation that places a society in serious danger or conflict," but which create the concern that, without the immediate intervention of the Armed Forces, such situations can become very dire.   The Supreme Court expressed its opinion as follows:


Great care must be exercised to safeguard individual guarantees by ensuring, through close monitoring, even through the appropriate entities, that actions are taken in accordance with the procedures outlined.  For the population, the suspension of guarantees can lead to the undermining of the inestimable values of life and liberty, which is clearly not in the interest of the community, and to justification of intervention by the Armed Forces, the purpose of which is to provide service.  Consequently, an effort should be made to avoid that extreme situation and to promote measures that make it possible to overcome the situation, even with the assistance of the Armed Forces, but based on absolute respect for individual guarantees and subordination to the civil authorities.[12]


21.     The State adds that "the intention of the petitioners to mislead the Commission is totally and manifestly clear."  It further provides several statements regarding the conduct of the members of the Armed Forces in the area.[13]  Based on the foregoing, the State maintains its position that no infraction took place in this case.[14]


22.     It is the responsibility of the IACHR to analyze whether the deprivation of the liberty of the three González Pérez sisters and their mother, which took place in Chiapas on June 4, 1994, under the circumstances described above, constituted a violation of the right to personal liberty guaranteed in the American Convention.  On a preliminary basis, it should be borne in mind that all States have not only the right but also the duty to preserve law and order and public safety within their territory.  In that regard, the guarantees established in the American Convention for the protection of the right to liberty and personal security do not in any way imply the curbing of the legitimate activity of the public security organs of the State.  The prohibition of arbitrary detentions is precisely a basic safeguard of citizen safety, to the extent that it prevents the legal mechanisms created to defend the safety of all inhabitants from being used to commit transgressions.



23.     The analysis of the compatibility of the deprivation of liberty with the provisions of Article 7(2 and 3) of the American Convention should be done in three phases.  The first consists of determining the legality of the detention from a material and formal standpoint.  To do so, it must be determined whether this action is compatible with the domestic legislation of the State in question.  The second step involves the analysis of these domestic provisions within the context of the guarantees established by the American Convention, in order to determine whether they are arbitrary.  Finally, if the detention meets the requirements of a domestic legal provision that is compatible with the American Convention, it should be determined whether the application of this law in this specific case was arbitrary.



24.     In this case, the Mexican State has provided general information aimed at justifying the presence of the Armed Forces in Chiapas, but has not cited the specific domestic legal provision that authorized the military officers to detain civilians.  The State fails to make clear the relevance of the Supreme Court decision regarding the composition of the National Public Security Council to the specific claims and facts analyzed herein.  In the view of the Commission, this State has failed to fulfill its obligation to provide an explanation regarding the specific claim pertaining to the illegality of the detention.



25.     The information contained in the file shows that the four women were deprived of their liberty while they were traveling on the public road.  Armed soldiers at a military checkpoint in Altamirano, Chiapas, in the conflict area, detained them a few months after the EZLN rebellion.  Subsequently, the four women were taken away and held against their will.

26.     The Inter-American Commission notes that, from the time that the EZLN armed rebellion started in 1994, the Mexican State did not adopt any measures related to the suspension of guarantees in Chiapas State in accordance with Article 27 of the American Convention.[15]  However, Article 7 of the aforementioned international instrument is fully applicable to this case.  With regard to the first step of the above-mentioned analysis, the facts related to the case show that the four women were deprived of their liberty without any reason being given and without any order from the appropriate authority, which constitutes a clear violation of the guarantees established in the American Convention.


27.     Since this case has not made it through the first of three steps of the analysis mentioned above, the IACHR concludes that the Mexican State is responsible for the violation of the right of Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez and Delia Pérez de González to liberty and personal security, which is protected under the American Convention.


B.       Right to humane treatment and privacy (Articles 5 and 11 of the American Convention)


28.     An analysis must now be done of the information pertaining to what was said to have taken place in the closed room near the checkpoint where the Tzeltal sisters were detained in Chiapas, based on the applicable provisions of the American Convention.


29.     The petitioners claim that the three sisters were beaten and physically abused while they were in the custody of the military officers, in order to get them to admit to membership in the EZLN.  They further claim that the three sisters were raped repeatedly by the majority of the military officers holding them in the wooden room mentioned above, as others looked on.  According to the petitioners, before they were let go, they were told that if they reported what had happened, they would be killed.


30.     The complaint filed by the victims and their representatives in the PGR office in Chiapas on August 30, 1994 contains information regarding the events. The version of the oldest González Pérez sister is provided below:


Two soldiers grabbed me, and one threw me on the floor as I tried to defend myself and my sisters with my hands and bites.  However, many soldiers were holding my sisters and me and they would not leave us alone.  They continued to hit my sisters and me until we could no longer defend ourselves.


At the same time, I saw that my other two sisters [Beatriz and Celia] were lying on the floor near to me and at least two soldiers were having sex with Beatriz, but I could not see how many were having sex with [Celia].  One soldier also told us that he would give us pills to prevent us from getting pregnant. 


The first soldier who assaulted me was tall, heavy, dark-skinned, young, and had a moustache.  He put himself on top of me while another held me and pushed me down and took off my pants and underwear.  He forced me to open my legs and placed his yath (penis) inside my l’u (vagina).


I felt great pain, and felt as though I was dying and then passed out; when I regained consciousness, I saw another soldier on top of me and I tried to scream but he pushed a handkerchief in my mouth and covered my eyes with a cloth.  This soldier was younger than the first and thinner….


While they were on top of us, they were laughing and saying things like: how delicious the zapatistas are and how good it was that they took advantage of us.  I remember that my sisters were screaming a lot.  They were not saying anything, they were only screaming.  Sometimes they shouted: “let us go.” [16]


31.     The second of the González Pérez sisters also gave her version of the events that occurred on July 4, 1994:


I remember that they grabbed me and the person who took advantage of me was thin, dark-skinned, and tall, and seem to be indigenous.  I remember the screams of my sisters and seeing Ana in bed with other soldiers.  They were near me on one side, and I could not see what was happening in front of me.  I only heard her screams and those of my sister Celia.  Two soldiers were holding on to Ana and another to Celia…


We counted about ten soldiers when we entered the house.  However, some left and when we screamed for help, we heard those soldiers fighting to see who could get in bed with us first…


We were crying and complaining about the fact that we were being hit and what they had done to us. When we went out, we could see that our mother was also crying, since she had heard our screams from outside where she was being held.  Like us, she does not speak Spanish, I understand a little bit of Spanish but cannot speak it.[17]

32.     The Commission will now discuss the events related by the petitioners and borne out in documents that were not disputed by the Mexican State.  The IACHR has ascertained that on June 29, 1994, Dr. Guadalupe Peña Millán, a certified medical practitioner, did a gynecological examination of each of the three sisters and noted that signs of rape were evident, more than 20 days after the facts were reported.  This medical evidence was included with the complaint filed on June 30, 1994 with the PGR's office in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.  On August 30, 1994, Ana and Beatriz González Pérez confirmed and explained their complaint before this authority as part of Preliminary Investigation 64/94 that had been opened on the basis of the complaint.


33.     The medical report, which was not disputed by the Mexican State, is dated June 29, 1994, and bears the signature of Dr. Guadalupe Peña Millán, whose professional identification number is 1182409, and has been duly registered. She states that she "is available to provide any clarification."  The medical report provides a detailed description of the medical examination done of the three sisters, as well as of the circumstances surrounding the case.  In that regard, Dr. Peña Millán explains that the women: "simultaneously received emotional support first and three hours later were sent to the medical clinic, and, with the assistance of a translator, they were told the reasons for the medical check and asked whether they wanted it done.  They were also given a detailed description of what the check would entail, and they confirmed that they did want it."


34.     Ana González Pérez, age 20, indicated that during the medical examination she had a stomach ache and felt nauseous, and the gynecologist noted that "she was oriented in terms of time, and space, she walked slowly, was medium complexioned, suffered hypertrophy (diminished muscle mass), was prone to crying, and had a calm demeanor and was cooperative during the interrogation."  The medical certificate noted the woman spoke "in a low tone, agreed to a general check but had reservations about the gynecological exam, did not show any visible sign of illness, and when placed in the position for the gynecological exam, became apprehensive. It was again explained to her that she would not be hurt, that she would simply be checked and a sample taken.  She agreed, but at the beginning her legs were trembling slightly."  The report on the examination of Ana González Pérez stated:


Slight muscular resistance was found (enough to make the examination difficult); the labia majora covered the labia menora, and when placed in the lithotomy position, her hymen was found to be torn, and the surrounding areas red and swollen; she has erythema ++ that is more than 15 days old, and scarring over 90% of the area with at least three carunculae myrtiformis, and swelling ++ (moderate redness because of irritation in the genital area at the time of the check), with a whitish discharge from which the sample was taken.


35.     Beatriz González Pérez, 18 years of age, "seemed nervous, was sad-faced, and apprehensive, but she cooperated during the interrogation (she was asked the same questions)."  Dr. Peña Millán describes her gynecological check thus:


There was muscular resistance, suffering, anguish, and fear.  The check was stopped in order to speak to her and provide her with reassurance and support.  Finally, despite moderate muscular resistance, it was noted that the labia majora covered the labia menora, with carunculae myrtiformis protruding from the vulva, and when placed in the lithotomy position, her hymen was found to be torn.  She had erythema +++ in the vulva, and the remainder of the carunculae myrtiformis were erythematous +++ and there was no discharge… on the inner aspect of the labium minor and at the level of right junction were two lesions in the form of erythematous plaques with a whitish halo.  A general vaginal sample was taken using a swab, and since it was not possible to obtain a sample of these plaques, the examination was concluded.


36.     Celia González Pérez, 16 years old, displayed much more fear and anguish during the examination:


She began to breathe heavily, and we calmed her down.  When placed in the position for the gynecological examination, she covered her face with both hands.  She was on the verge on tears.  For a while, her body moved involuntarily  (convulsions) while her breathing and heart rate increased.  At that time, the check had not yet started.  There was muscular resistance during the entire period, and it was very difficult to evaluate the genital area and only the following information was obtained: the labia majora covered the labia menora, with a slight white discharge.  The vulva was erythematous ++++, and she had at least five linear dermoepidermal lesions on both buttocks (two on the right and three on the left), which were consistent with scratches and had bloody edges, with desquamation more than 15 days old.  At the end of the check, she was extremely upset, and was crying uncontrollably.  She was again sent to the emotional support section.


37.     The gynecologist concludes her medical report thus:


It is important to point out that the three women were in a very poor emotional state, and the gynecological examination, which lasted for more than 45 minutes on average, caused them to relive the trauma.  In addition to the information provided above, laboratory samples were obtained in order to conduct tests or prevent sexually transmitted diseases… An antibiotic (penicillin) was prescribed as a prophylactic (preventive treatment) against venereal diseases.  During the follow-up visits, VDRL and HIV tests will have to be conducted, since the sexual habits of the aggressors are unknown and this is not possible now because of the refusal of the three women to give a blood sample.  At the time of the check, the possibility of pregnancy was ruled out.


In addition to the foregoing, psychological treatment was recommended in order to facilitate emotional recovery, prior to further medical or laboratory visits or legal proceedings.  Subsequent medical follow-up visits are required in at least eight days and then within three weeks in order to obtain samples.


38.     In the view of the IACHR, the document summarized above contains clear and detailed information, and shows that an in-depth professional examination was done of the three victims involved in this case.  The medical evidence was presented in a timely fashion and in the manner required.  Despite this, it was not challenged or even considered within the framework of legally valid proceedings in Mexico.  Although the burden of proof lay with the Mexican State in terms of the processing of this case by the Inter-American Commission, the Mexican State failed to meet its obligation to disprove the allegations made in a serious and well-founded manner.  The Inter-American Commission therefore lends complete credence to the medical certificate issued by Dr. Guadalupe Peña Millán on June 29, 1994 in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.


39.     The United Nations Commission on Human Rights recently defined a series of principles that must be taken into account by medical professionals in investigating reports related to torture.[18]  According to these principles, the conduct of doctors should, at all times, be in keeping with "the strictest ethical guidelines" and the consent of the person to be examined should be obtained.  Examinations shall take place in accordance with medical practices, and "never in the presence of security agents or other government officials."  The "reliable report" to be prepared immediately by medical experts should include, at a minimum, the following information:


(i)         Circumstances of the interview: name of the subject and name affiliation of those present at the examination; the exact time and date; the location, nature and address of the institution (including, where appropriate, the room) where the examination is being conducted (e.g. detention center, clinic, house, etc.); the circumstances of the subject at the time of the examination (e.g. nature of any restraints on arrival or during the examination, presence of security forces during the examination, demeanor of those accompanying the prisoner, threatening statements to the examiner, etc.); and any other relevant factor;


(ii)         History: a detailed record of the subject's story as given during the interview, including alleged methods of torture or ill-treatment, the times when torture or ill-treatment is alleged to have occurred and all complaints of physical and psychological symptoms;


(iii)        Physical and psychological examination: records of all physical and psychological findings on clinical examination including appropriate diagnostic tests and, where possible, color photographs of all injuries;


(iv)        Opinion: an interpretation as to the probable relationship of the physical and psychological findings to possible torture or ill treatment. A recommendation for any necessary medical and psychological treatment and/or further examination should be given;


(v)        Authorship: the report should clearly identify those carrying out the examination and should be signed.


40.     The medical reports, the parameters of which are defined by the United Nations, must be confidential and must be delivered to the alleged victim or representative appointed by that person.  It adds "the report should also be provided in writing, where appropriate, to the authority responsible for investigating the allegation of torture or ill-treatment."


41.     The medical examination done of the González Pérez sisters falls within the parameters established by the United Nations.  Indeed, it relates the circumstances under which the interview took place with the level of detail necessary, with data that is sufficiently precise and consistent; it includes the professional interpretation regarding the possible reasons for the injuries noted, contains a recommendation regarding appropriate treatment, and identifies the doctor, who indicates that she is available to provide any clarification necessary.


42.     The IACHR establishes, on the basis of the unchallenged report and other evidence available, that Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez were subjected to illegal interrogation, accompanied by physical abuse that included the rape of the three sisters.  These acts were perpetrated on June 4, 1994 in Altamirano, Chiapas, by a group of military officers during the time that the sisters were illegally deprived of their liberty.  The context in which these events took place also leads us to conclude that the acts were committed in a bid to intimidate the three women because of their alleged ties with the EZLN.  Furthermore, the IACHR establishes that, as a result of the humiliation created by this abuse, the González Pérez sisters and their mother had to flee their habitual residence and their community.


43.     Article 5(1) of the American Convention states that "every person has the right to have his physical, mental, and moral integrity respected."  Article 5(2) of that international instrument clearly prohibits torture and guarantees respect for the human dignity of persons who have been deprived of their liberty.  The American Convention to Prevent and Punish the Crime of Torture defines this aberrant practice:


Torture shall be understood to be any act intentionally performed whereby physical or mental pain or suffering is inflicted on a person for purposes of criminal investigation, as a means of intimidation, as personal punishment, as a preventive measure, as a penalty, or for any other purpose. Torture shall also be understood to be the use of methods upon a person intended to obliterate the personality of the victim or to diminish his physical or mental capacities, even if they do not cause physical pain or mental anguish.


44.     Furthermore, Article 11 of the American Convention guarantees every individual the right to respect of this privacy and recognition of his dignity, and states that "no one may be the object of arbitrary or abusive interference with his private life, his family, his home, or his correspondence, or of unlawful attacks on his honor or reputation."


45.     Sexual violence committed by members of the security forces of a State against the civilian population constitutes, in any situation, a serious violation of the human rights protected under Articles 5 and 11 of the American Convention, as well as the guidelines of international humanitarian law.  In fact, in its final verdict in the Celebici case, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) expressly stated that "there can be no doubt that rape and other forms of sexual assault are expressly prohibited under international law."[19]  The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women explains that "rape during warfare has also been used to terrorize populations and induce civilians to flee their homes and villages."  She also adds that “the consequences of sexual violence are physically, emotionally and psychologically devastating for women victims."[20]

46.     The IACHR points out that the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Belém do Pará Convention) guarantees all women the right to a life free of violence.[21]


47.     In international law, rape is a form of torture under certain circumstances.  The IACHR confirmed this in the case of a woman who was abused and harassed for her alleged participation in an armed dissident group:


Rape produces physical and mental suffering for the victim.  In addition to the violence suffered at the time that it is perpetrated, victims usually sustain injuries and in some instances become pregnant.  Being the object of this kind of abuse also produces psychological trauma resulting from their humiliation on the one hand and victimization on the other, and from the condemnation of members of their community if they report the mistreatment to which they were subjected.


Raquel Mejía was raped in order to inflict personal punishment on her and to intimidate her.  Her testimony reveals that the person who sexually abused her told her that both she and her husband were wanted for subversive activities.[22]


48.     The United Nations Special Rapporteur against torture has indicated that rape is a method of physical torture that is used in some instances to punish, intimidate, and humiliate.[23]  Using similar language, the European Court of Human Rights stated:


Rape of a detainee by an official of the State must be considered to be an especially grave and abhorrent form of ill treatment given the ease with which the offender can exploit the vulnerability and weakened resistance of his victim.  Furthermore, rape leaves deep psychological scars on the victim which do not respond to the passage of time as quickly as other forms of physical and mental violence.[24]


49.     The concept has been developed in recent years, particularly in cases referred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  In the Furundzija case, this tribunal stated:


As evidenced by international case law, the reports of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Committee against Torture, those of the Special Rapporteur and the public statements of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, this vicious and ignominious practice can take on various forms.  International case law, and the reports of the United Nations Special Rapporteur evince a momentum towards addressing, through legal process, the use of rape in the course of detention and interrogation as a means of torture and, therefore, as a violation of international law.  Rape is resorted to either by the interrogator himself or by other persons associated with the interrogation of a detainee, as a means of punishing, intimidating, coercing, or humiliating the victim, or obtaining information or a confession from the victim or a third person.[25]


50.     The facts established here are particularly serious, since one of the women raped was a minor, and as such was entitled to special protection under the American Convention.  Furthermore, the rape took place while the three women were illegally detained, a few months after the armed rebellion of the EZLN, against a backdrop of harassment of persons considered to be "zapatistas," in an area where this armed dissident group exerted influence.


51.     Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez were sexually assaulted as part of an illegal interrogation conducted by military officers in a zone of armed conflict and were accused of collaborating with the EZLN.  The Inter-American Commission, within the context of this case and the pertinent analysis, also lends credence to the reports of death threats and additional acts of torture reported by the aggressors when they released them, since these acts were reported and never investigated in accordance with due process in Mexico.  Given the manner in which they were assaulted, the accusations made against them, and the serious threats, it is reasonable to believe that the military officers wanted to humiliate and punish the women for their alleged links with the rebels.[26]


52.     In the view of the Inter-American Commission, abuses targeting the physical, mental, and moral integrity of the three Tzeltal sisters committed by agents of the Mexican State constitute torture.[27]  Furthermore, the events described herein represent a violation of the private lives of the four women and their families and an illegal attack on their privacy, which led them to flee their community in a situation of fear, shame, and humiliation.


53.     Based on international human rights case law, under certain circumstances, the anguish and suffering imposed on the close relatives of the victims of serious human rights violations also constitute a violation of the right of these persons to humane treatment.[28]  In this case, the IACHR holds the view that the treatment extended to Delia Pérez de González, who had to stand by helplessly and witness the abuse of her three daughters by members of the Mexican Armed Forces and then to experience, along with them, ostracism by her community, constitutes a form of humiliation and degradation that is a violation of the right to humane treatment guaranteed by the American Convention.


54.     The Inter-American Commission concludes, based on the facts proven and the arguments outlined above, that the Mexican State is responsible for violation of Articles 5 and 11 of the American Convention, to the detriment of Ana, Beatriz, and Celia González Pérez and Delia Pérez de González.


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[1] Fictitious names. The real identities of the sisters and their relatives are withheld at the express request of the petitioners and in keeping with the practice of the Commission when dealing with denounced acts such as are characterized in this case which, when published, could affect a person’s privacy. (See, for example, the IACHR 1996 Annual Report, Report Nº 38/96, Case 10.506–X and Y, Argentina, pages 52 to 78).   Moreover, one of the alleged victims was a minor at the time the violation allegedly occurred.  In their note of May 2, 1999, the petitioners stated the following:

After lodging the petitions, the victims suffered reprisals from the community where they lived, as a result of which they had to move away from their village of origin and two of them changed their names. For those reasons, we, the petitioners, have left out the names of the injured parties and respectfully request the honorable Commission in future to keep the names of the victims secret.

The Mexican State knows the identity of the victims.  This information appears in the report that opened Case 11.565, the pertinent parts of which were transmitted to the State on January 18, 1996, and in the petition lodged on June 30, 1994 with the Office of the Attorney General of Mexico in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.

[2]  IACHR, 1999 Annual Report, Report Nº 129/99, pages 268 to 280.

[3] In that correspondence, the Mexican State reiterated its position during processing of the case by stating:

Due to the lack of cooperation on the part of the alleged victims, as well as their legal representatives, which would allow the steps required under the law to be taken to prove the commission of sexual offenses, on February 7, 1996, the competent authorities closed the file, with the legal confidentiality, related to investigation A.5.F.T.A/03/94/94-E.

Since it was not possible to continue the appropriate investigations, these authorities could not make a decision regarding the classification of criminal evidence and, consequently, the existence of probable responsibility on the part of the military.  To date, the situation has remained unchanged.

In light of the foregoing, the Mexico Government cannot agree to institute proceedings that would involve negotiating or agreeing to recognize illegal acts that have not been substantiated, and the resulting fictitious determination of criminal liability…

[4] An armed dissident group that led a rebellion in Chiapas in 1994. The “Law for Dialogue, Conciliation and Fitting Peace in Chiapas”, which entered into force on March 11, 1995, defines the EZLN as a “group of people who identify themselves as an organization of mostly indigenous Mexican citizens, who, for various reasons, chose to rebel and became involved in an armed conflict that started on January 1, 1994”. As of the date of approval of this report, the conflict continues and the negotiations for reaching peace in Chiapas remain unconcluded.


[5] Correspondence from the petitioners dated January 16, 1996, page 1.

[6] Idem

[7] Idem, page 2.

[8] Statement provided by Ana González Pérez, confirmation of the complaint filed with the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic on August 30, 1994, paras. 6-11.  PGR Preliminary investigation Nº 64/94.

[9]   Communication of October 24, 1996 from the State, page 14.

[10] The aforementioned provision of the General Law states that the coordination bases of the National Public Security System are the following:

Article 12:  The National Council shall be the senior coordinating entity of the national system and shall be made up of:

            The Secretary of Government, who shall serve as chair;

            II.          The State Governors;

            III.         The Secretary of National Defense;

            IV.        The Secretary of the Navy;

            V.         The Secretary of Communications and Transportation;

            VI.        The Attorney General of the Republic;

            VII.        The head of the Federal District Government; and

            VIII.       The Executive Secretary of the National Public Security System.

[11] Idem, page 16.

[12] Idem, pages 18 and 19.

[13] The information submitted by that State includes the statements provided by persons living in the area where the events occurred, one of whom stated:

Since the time that the military officers came here, they have gotten along well with the people.  I have never witnessed any problem between the people here and the military.  The military officers only ask people to show identification and check their bags.  I have never heard any rumor that the military officers who are at the checkpoint close to my house have taken advantage of women…

I have never seen the soldiers hit young girls, since such conduct would have been reported to the authorities.  I have never been coached by anyone to make this statement, nor have I been threatened.  No one has given me money to provide this statement and on that day no drinking was taking place… [sic].

Idem, page 4.

[14] The State maintains that:

It is incomprehensible that accusations would be leveled against institutions that are in good standing and enjoy a good reputation such as the Mexican Army, without any evidence other than rumors that merely create insecurity from a legal standpoint and are a most shameful attack against the institutions responsible for National Security, which were moved to the conflict zone for the sole purpose of fulfilling their duty, that is, their constitutional mission of protecting the internal security of the Nation, within a system based on the rule of law and respect for human rights as exists in Mexico.

[15] Article 27(1) of the American Convention states:

In time of war, public danger, or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of a State Party, it may take measures derogating from its obligations under the present Convention to the extent and for the period of time strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with its other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination on the ground of race, color, sex, language, religion, or social origin.

The next paragraph of this provision states that rights may not be suspended in such situations, which include the right to personal safety and judicial guarantees.  Finally, Article 27 establishes the procedure to be followed in the event of the suspension of guarantees, consisting of the immediate notification of the other States parties to the American Convention, through the OAS Secretary General, “of the provisions the application of which it has suspended, the reasons that gave rise to the suspension, and the date set for the termination of such suspension."

[16] Statement provided by Ana González Pérez, paras. 19-24, PGR Preliminary Investigation Nº 64/94.

[17] Statement provided by Celia González Pérez, paras. 3, 5, and 7, PGR Preliminary Investigation Nº 64/94.


[18] United Nations, Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Principles on the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  Annex,
E/CN.4/RES/2000/43, April 20, 2000.

[19] Case Nº IT-96-21 T, Ruling, para. 476, November 16, 1998.  Taken from Louis Henkin et al, Human Rights.  Foundation Press, New York, 1999, pages 380 and 381.

[20] United Nations, Report submitted by Mrs. Radhika Coomarasway, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, including its causes and consequences, in accordance with Resolution 1997/44 of the Commission, E/CN.4/1998/54, January 26, 1998, paras 13 and 14.   An article recently published by Pace University states:

Rape is not a novel concept particular to our time.  Women have been subjected to various forms of sexual assault in times of peace and in times of war, since time immemorial.  In efforts to demoralize and humiliate the enemy, these assaults have occurred with increasing frequency in recent years, especially in internal conflicts, where women are targeted because of their affiliation with the opposition….

Samantha I. Ryan, From the furies of Nanking to the Eumenides of the International Criminal Court:  The Evolution of Sexual Assaults as International Crimes, Pace International Law Review, Pace University School of Law, Fall 1999, page 447.

[21] Mexico signed the Belém do Pará Convention on June 10, 1994 (six days after the events related to this case were confirmed) and deposited its instrument of ratification on November 12, 1998.  Article 4 of this Convention states that "every woman has the right to the recognition, enjoyment, exercise and protection of all human rights and freedoms embodied in regional and international human rights instruments."  These rights include, among others:

The right to have her physical, mental and moral integrity respected; the right to personal liberty and security; the right not to be subjected to torture; the right to have the inherent dignity of her person respected and her family protected; and the right to simple and prompt recourse to a competent court for protection against acts that violate her rights.

[22] IACHR, Report 5/96 cited above, pages 199 and 200.

[23] United Nations, E/CN/4/1986/15, paras. 119 and 431.

[24] European Court of Human Rights, Aydin v. Turkey, (57/1996/676/866), Ruling of September 25, 1997, para. 83.

[25] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Anto Furudzija, ruling of December 10, 1998, para. 163.  This judicial decision was confirmed in the ICTY Court of Appeals by a ruling of July 21, 2000.

[26] In that regard, the report of the Special Rapporteur states the following:

Perhaps more than the honour of the victim, it is the perceived honour of the enemy that is targeted in the perpetration of sexual violence against women; it is seen and often experienced as a means of humiliating the opposition.  Sexual violence against women is meant to demonstrate victory over the men of the other group who have failed to protect their women.  It is a message of castration and emasculation.  It is a battle among men fought over the bodies of women.

United Nations, E/CN.4/1998/54 cited above, para. 13.

[27] In a recent decision, the Inter-American Court explains:

According to international standards related to protection, torture can be perpetrated not only through the exercise of physical violence, but also through acts that cause acute physical, mental, or moral suffering for the victim.

Both the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Inter-American Convention on that topic cover that possibility.  In order to address the right to humane treatment in clear terms, the latter of those two instruments makes express reference to the physical and moral integrity of individuals.

Inter-American Court, Cantoral Benavides Case, Judgment of August 18, 2000, paras. 100 and 101.

[28] In the case of the "street children of Guatemala, the Inter-American Court established that the victims had been kidnapped, tortured, and assassinated by State agents, who, in addition, abandoned their abused bodies to the elements.  Consequently, the Court determined that "the manner in which the remains of the victims were treated, which were sacred to their relatives and to their mothers, constituted a form of cruel and inhuman treatment for them."  Inter-American Court, Case of Villagrán Morales et al., cited above, para. 174.  In the decision, the Inter-American Court cites its own precedent in the case of Blake (Judgment of January 24, 1998, para. 115) and other decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Committee on Human Rights.